Tales of W11
Laura Del-Rivo photographed this afternoon in her home 'manor' of W11. The occasion was the launch of her new book of short stories, Where is My Mask of an Honest Man?, described by her publishers as 'Tales of W11'.
Laura has lived round here most of her life. She still runs a stall on Portobello Market selling designer leggings and tights. The locality was the setting of her most renowned novel, The Furnished Room - first published in 1961 and recently republished by Five Leaves - which Michael Winner turned into a film, with the apt title 'West 11'.
I had a brief moment to chat to Laura. She was memorably photographed by Ida Kar, at the same time as Ida was taking portrait shots of Colin MacInnes and Bernard Kops. I assumed they all knew each other, and perhaps influenced each other - The Furnished Room, includes an account of organised racism in Notting Hill, a theme which loomed large in MacInnes's Absolute Beginners. But Laura said she never met MacInnes.
I asked about the model for Reg Wainwright, the Communist novelist in The Furnished Room. She said he was based on a type not a person. Her boyfriend at the time was in the CP Writers' Group, so she knew quite a few of that ilk.
But while Wainwright didn't have an earlier life, he had an after life. Laura told me that a Marxist novelist,John Comley [thanks for correcting me on the name, Colin!], named one of his characters Reg Wainwright in a nod to Del-Rivo's creation.
'Suspected Extraordinary Activity'
A bizarre notice to see in a central London street on a Friday evening. What's it all about? Well, ring the number and find out. (And how audacious of Channel 4 to place this board just outside the BBC headquarters). As for SHIELD, an acronym with a lively history - more here.
The Shuttle and Cage
Courtesy of eBay - and of the eagle-eyed Alan Dein, historian and broadcaster, who spotted it there - here's a wonderful 1954 book of what Ewan MacColl termed industrial folk ballads. It has a catching cover design (the artist simply signed as 'Brooke'), and was published by the Workers' Music Association - an organisation founded in 1936, when the CP was in its "popular front" stage, and which is still going.
'Few of these songs have ever appeared in print before', says Ewan MacColl in the preface, 'for they were not made with an eye to quick sales - or to catch the song-plugger's ear but to relieve the intolerable daily grind.'
The songs inlcude 'The Colliers' Rant' and three others from A.L. Lloyd's Come all ye bold miners, one song gathered by the legendary Alan Lomax, and several gleaned from weavers, miners and rail workers.
'There are no nightingales in these songs, no flowers - and the sun is rarely mentioned; their themes are work, poverty, hunger and exploitation.'
Cutting it at CNN
Some broadcasters really are sharp at recognising talent. I just popped in to the CNN Centre here at Atlanta, and in no time I was in the studio doing a screen test. Was it the sharp dress sense, the youthful appearance, or the cute accent?
They've said they'll let me know.
The Fabulous Fox
Not simply the most striking building in Atlanta. The Fox Theater is one of the most astonishing examples of architectural, well, eccentricity I've every come across. It makes the Prince Regent's Brighton adventure seem restrained.
According to Wikipedia, the Shriners, a masonic-style organisation, had a hand in the Moorish design. And the building opened as a movie palace in 1929. Various attempts to redevelop the site have been fended off, it's been stylishly restored and remains in use as a concert venue.
As you can see, the side elevation to the building is even more remarkable, a quite extraordinary piece of mock Arabesque architecture. The scale is gargantuan, and the attention to detail quite remarkable - right down to tiling, window surround, pillar cushions ... and the interior is apparently even more elaborate, in Egyptian style!
In the footsteps of the King
For only the second time in my life, I went today to a Baptist church service. My father was brought up a Baptist, his twin brother was briefly a Baptist elder, but I was 50 before I first entered the once imposing Gildersome Baptist chapel. There was a much larger congregation this morning at the Ebenezer church in Atlanta, closely associated with Martin Luther King. An impressive service, strong sermon, enchanting male choir (in smart matching suits with striking pale yellow ties) - and I didn't see another white face there. I hadn't expected the tactile aspect of the event. When the preacher asked the congregation to turn to their neighbour and say: "Have you welcomed Christ into your life?" the woman next to me grabbed my hand and posed the question. (Answer on demand!) And the last hymn was sung with everyone joining hands, and the last verse with hands high in the air. But I wasn't there as a tourist - and I enjoyed the service.
Around Ebenezer is the 'Sweet Auburn' district, the community amid which King grew up. Migrants from Germany initially settled here, then from the 1880s African Americans began moving in. Race riots culminating in particularly vicious violence in 1906 prompted 'white flight'. The black community that defined the area was prosperous. In the 1930s, when King was a child here, Auburn Avenue was reputed to be the most prosperous 'black' street in the world.
At least that is what the guide showing us round King's house - the mustard coloured one in the photo - told us. A spacious, sturdy building, and the locality is now run as a National Park. That includes some surviving 'shotgun' houses, smaller, with the front door opening directly on to the living room, built for blue collar workers.
The MLK 'National Historic Site' is not generally top of the list for visitors to Atlanta, but it's lot more rewarding than 'The World of Coca Cola', I promise you!
To Jodhpur and back
This loving and lavish account of the life and work of Maureen Eyre Proudman, artist and designer, has been assembled by Kate Proudman, her granddaughter. The cover shows what Maureen regarded as her best work, 'Spring Morning', which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1948.
Perhaps the most intriguing episode in a very full life was the young Maureen Eyre's sojourn in India. In 1931, a couple of years after graduating from the Royal College of Art, she headed out alone by boat to Bombay, travelling on to Rajputana (what's now Rajasthan) to stay with an uncle who worked on the Indian Railways.
In Jodhpur, she mixed with the maharajah and his family, eating from gold plates and bowls and attending the opening of the Jodhpur Flying Club. Kate Proudman muses about whether her grandmother went out as part of the "fishing fleet", seeking in the Indian Raj an eligible bachelor. That's certainly how it worked out. Philip Proudman was a civil engineer with the Jodhpur State Railways. They married in Singapore in March 1932 - this book includes a wedding report from The Straits Times as well as a wonderful sepia wedding photo.
Maureen and Philip lived in India for a further three years. As well as being a mother, Maureen returned to her work as an artist - designing this glorious travel poster for Indian Railways, dated 1934 and printed in Bombay. You can see in the foreground two women carrying water on their heads, and towering above the majesty of Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort.
You can find out more about the book and its author (Kate has followed in Maureen's footsteps and is an artist) on Kate Proudman's website. And you can order the book on the Blurb website - there's much more to it, and to Maureen's life, than I've mentioned here, and it includes dozens of evocative photographs and marvellous examples of Maureen's work.
College Lane revisited
It is among the most evocative of war memorials. A plaque on the outside wall of a north London terrace listing the names of ten local men who died in the First World War - the inscription now barely legible.
The plaque is on College Lane, which runs parallel to Highgate Road - and which is the longest street I know of in this part of London which doesn't front a road. I've written about the memorial before but new information is to hand - thanks to one of the residents of College Lane - which I am keen to share.
The memorial is unique in London - reputed to be the only wall mounted commemoration of the dead of the Great War. And back in 2000 the Camden New Journal published the findings of an amateur historian, Carl Crane, who had done some delving into the stories of those listed on the plaque. All the information here come from Carl Crane's research - and I've posted the article below.
The ten men all served in the Borough of St Pancras-based 19th London regiment - and all were killed on the battlefields of France and Belgium or died of wounds suffered there. Several have no war grave. And their names - well, there were nine privates or similar grade:
+ John Albert Powell Sayers
+ Fred Britcher
+ Charles James Manning
+ William James Cecil Stratton
+ Douglas Walter Barrett
+ Henry James
+ Percy Robert Leahey
+ Charles Henry Biggs
+ William Henry Turner
And one sergeant - (I think I've located a photograph of him - watch this space!):
+ Alfred Herbert Stanton
Every remembrance day a resident of College Lane places a poppy on the memorial. What a nice touch!
Ever since my old 'local' in Chester Road was knocked down, I've been looking for a really good fish and chip shop within a mile or two of home.
I've tried quite a few, and some aren't bad - but this one is the best.
'Fish Fish' on Archway Road - more-or-less opposite the Winchester - is Georgian-run (think Tbilisi not Atlanta), and it's a sit-down fish restaurant. But it does excellent, freshly cooked, reasonably price takeways as well.
I can't stand cod or rock - I always go for haddock. And I haven't been disappointed yet at 'Fish Fish'.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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